Is the PD day broken? Professional development days may do little to improve teaching
Tristin Hopper Apr 20, 2012 – 10:41 PM ET | Last Updated: Apr 22, 2012 9:30 AM ET
This month, Bill Whelan told the P.E.I. Ministry of Education it was time to take a long, hard look at PD, or “professional development,” days. A medical physicist at the University of P.E.I., Prof. Whelan was co-chair of a one-year commission tasked with modernizing the province’s school system. Among 48 recommendations was a prominent call for PD reform: Parents found the days a nuisance, teachers found them a waste of time — and they did not even work. Their effectiveness is “questionable, at best,” said Prof. Whelan. If Canada’s smallest province had any hope of boosting student learning, old-fashioned PD days had to go.
Since at least the 1970s, school calendars across Canada have contained four to eight “professional development days,” a mysterious day where school buses are parked, students stay home and teachers gather in empty classrooms to figure out the latest ways to get kids to absorb lessons on math and science. Nevertheless, after 40 years, exasperated principals and bored teachers are starting to say what students have suspected for decades; the Canadian PD day is broken.
“I think they’re just a one-shot deal, a bit of a taste of this, a bit of a taste of that, it’s nothing substantial, nothing that’s going to change your way of thinking, necessarily,” said Geoff Johnson, a retired B.C. superintendent. “It feels good at the time, but what’s the takeaway from it?”
If you’re just going to have a day available to say, ‘We’re going to get together to improve the climate of the school, what does that mean?’
Across Canada, the bimonthly days have spawned a cottage industry of PD activities and day camps serving parents who struggle to find alternative child-care arrangements. Talia Erickson owns Buddings, a flexible-hours daycare in central Vancouver. Her usual charges are two- and three-year-olds, but on PD days the daycare is flooded with five-year-old kindergartners. “On the philosophical side … we want to support the teachers and make sure they’re happy educating our kids,” said Ms. Erickson. “But on the more practical side, people are needing to scramble to find child care.”
The B.C. Education Plan makes note of the PD animosity: “on Pro D days, parents make alternative arrangements for their children and they need to be assured that these days are used as intended.”
Occasionally, they aren’t. Last September, the staff at B.C.’s Eric Hamber Secondary School scheduled a PD retreat complete with Frisbee, ping pong and foosball. After the schedule was leaked to The Vancouver Sun by way of an anonymous brown envelope, the retreat garnered condemnation from the Education Ministry and the teachers’ union alike.
Two years ago, the Toronto District School Board gathered all its teachers for a $130,000 September rally at the Air Canada Centre including performances by jazz singer Nikki Yanofsky and swag bags imprinted with the slogan “Believe it!” “I think it’s important to build a sense of energy and momentum before the school year begins,” board director Chris Spence explained in a public letter...........http://news.nationalpost.com/2012/04/20 ... ay-broken/